Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
Trip End Jan 27, 2004

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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Quito, Banos

Here I am then. Doing South America! My last email was written from Panama City, our final destination in Central America, and I was waiting for the rest of the group to arrive having flown ahead for a few days. The last night in Panama was a mad rush to pack backpacks ready for our flight over Columbia to Ecuador. Then we had a dinner to say goodbye. Then sat up until 2am waiting for a taxi to the airport.

Some tearful farewells and a short drive later and we were waiting for our 5am flight back to Costa Rica (a stopover in San Jose airport for 5 long hours in the early morning - very dull). Then a connecting flight on to Quito in Ecuador. By the time we arrived (mid afternoon) we were pretty shattered. It was funny being on the national flights as it made me think a little about coming home!

We were met by Jim and Helen (Jim's co-driver who is on her first Exodus trip as a tour leader not a passenger). Then we drove to Quito and spent about 24 hours acclimatising to the altitude. Never experienced that before! To be out of breath just walking around our hotel rooms really hit home just how high we were. Still after spending two months in bikinis and sarongs (I hear you all groan and say if only...) it was actually nice to be somewhere a bit cooler for a change. We wrapped up in jackets, jeans, socks and trainers and thoroughly enjoyed sleeping with sheets AND blankets on our beds. It reminded me of a crisp October in England. Lovely!

So I have new people to tell you about and a new truck to describe too. This one is an overland expedition truck (our last vehicle was a 15 seater minibus). This monster is a Mercedes flatbed which has had a huge house built onto the back of it (it was built in Peru). It has a 10 litre monster engine, which it needs having seen the weight it is carrying and the roads that we are travelling on. It needs to be very tough as we are coming across some of the most unfriendly, unmade roads I have ever had the joy to travel on. Still I have found that by lying on the floor of the truck I can use the unbearable rocking motion to my advantage and can sleep quite easily.

The truck has lots of exterior lockers and secret places which house crockery, stools, a water tank, food, cleaning stuff, gas cooking stove, firewood..... And inside... there are very small benches, some facing inwards, some forwards which we actually quite comfortably fit onto. We rotate so no one ends up with the duff seats too often. But you can't lean back so the sights are sometimes hysterical when you see sleeping bodies strewn about the bus in the most contorted positions, just to catch a little z-eye.

Underneath each seat is a locker where we keep our personal belongings. In here we have emptied the entire contents of our backpacks and when we arrive at a hotel or campsite we pack a day pack with our overnight stuff. Now, I say bring back the days of everything staying in the backpack and it being slung on top of the roof of the van every morning. At least when I was lugging my backpack in and out of hotels I knew exactly where everything was. I had packed it with so much precision, everything had its place and I'd become accustomed to my system. The locker system encourages you to overspill into other peoples lockers and shelves and I have no idea where anything is. So the simple life of MY LIFE in a backpack is instilled in me now. Who needs excess space and belongings? It just complicates things!

I did say that I thought this leg of the trip would be tougher. We also have extremely long driving days. At the moment pretty much every other day. In North and Central America our driving days were a maximum of 8 hours. Now we are doing 12-14 hour days! But then when you look at the map it really hits home how many miles we have to cover. The drives are slower as we are going much higher into the mountains and the roads are very windy and slow. When I look back, in fact already, I appreciate the enormity of this overland trip. 32,000 miles overland! Crazy! Those long drives on the M25 will be a piece a cake and I will never EVER complain about long car journeys ever again!

That's the truck. Now the group. There are 7 of us who are doing the full Alaska to Cape Horn Trip. Myself, Andrew, Jo, Sally, Adam, Geoff & Betty.

The new group:

Bill & Leslie - from Glasgow - lates 40s early 50's, very interesting couple, have done lots of travelling, teaching English to kids in china etc., good down to earth people, probably stand out of the group and they also wonder why they have gone on a group trip. Nice people.

Helen & Michelle - from Yorkshire - early 30s, very giggly but a good laugh, both midwives in the same hospital, have been friends for years.

Jon - from London - 28 - just qualified as a psychiatrist so the jokes about us being analysed are rife, talks for England, bit of a lad, Sally has a crush on him but we're not sure if it's reciprocated so bets are on.

Tony - from Cornwall but now lives in Bristol - 36 - used to work for Royal Mail's PR department. Loves football, really nice bloke, fairly quiet but coming out of his shell.

Michelle & Sarah - late 20s - no one really knows much about them as they don't say much but we all try and involve them as much as possible.

Theresa - mid 30s - Australian - Travelling the world on her own!

Delga - late 40s - lives in Jersey - she joined the other group who were running parallel with us from Mexico City to Panama so we met her a few times along the way. She's really nice, fairly quiet but easy to be around in such a confined space.

Brit - early 30's - Danish - very serious!!! We must be able to change that.

That's our crew! Not a bad group, no life changing friendships but nice to have some fresh blood and new faces.


QUITO: 24th November and we arrive in Quito. Alaska seems so far away already and just talking to the new group about our experiences finds us feeling sentimental about the past four months already. Happy days! As I mentioned above the altitude really knocked us back. We weren't ready for it and after we'd been saying "do you know it's really weird but I got out of breath just walking to the bathroom" we suddenly realised how high we actually were. We hung out in Quito for a day to recover from the flight and generally build our energy up again.

We all excitedly met at 8am the next morning to meet the truck for the first time. And us seasoned travellers, who were by now quite tanned and farely well travelled, where a bit excited about being the 'old hands' amongst the white brits who had just flown in from the UK.

Everything was new and different and it was strange how we all slowly climbed onto the truck, curiously lifting open lockers and cupboards, discovering what was in them and realising that this big box was soon to become our beloved home for the next 9 weeks.

We got settled and set off, to loads of stares as we travelled through the streets. The locals seeing a huge monstrosity of a truck with 'Exodus Overland Adventures' emblazoned across the sides and back and European faces peering out from the enormous windows. We felt like the circus passing through town and, even after two weeks of travelling, still do. The locals love seeing the truck and it is now traditional for us and them to wave furiously as we parade ourselves through towns, villages and mountains.

BANOS: After a long, windy and bumpy drive up into the mountains we came to our first overnight stop in a small mountain town called Banos (which is Spanish for toilet, but it's nothing like a toilet, it was very cute). The usual main plaza with a few streets running off the four corners with lots of activity. Restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, people selling cheap copied CD's (I have bought a ridiculous amount of CDs bit at a pound a go you just can't resist, but sharing music with fellow travellers is great as I now have a completely new selection of things I had never heard before).

We took it easy for a day here. Not much to do expect sit back in a street cafe on the pavement and marvel at the mountains that we were nestled in. Sheer mountains that were so close that you have to crane your neck to see the peaks. We had our first group meal where everyone started to chat and really got to know each other then some of us went to a bar, got a bit trashed on Kairaprinas (local sugar cane liquor known as firewater and freshly squeezed lemon juice - delicious and very refreshing/however after about your sixth one you do start to suck your cheeks in at the sourness of the lemon). We had a good night and bonded really well. A good start.
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